Duck, NC 2007

The Outer Banks of NC is a place my family has vacationed at many times – first as a kid, and then as an adult I took my own family and friends. My kids still say it’s one of their favorite vacation spots and tops any other beach destinations we’ve visited. If you have young kids, I truly believe it’s one of the best types of trips you can take. I say “trip” because when you have little ones, there’s no such thing as a “vacation” for a mom, unless said little ones are not with you. Any trip at that age is just a heck of a lot of work – unless you have a budget that includes nannies, a chef or eating out every night, or you’re going to an all-inclusive resort or cruise ship. And even then, there is so much planning, packing, and stress you will at some point question if it’s worth it.

So what makes the Outer Banks different? They are a skinny strip of land just off the coast of NC, populated with mostly rental homes rather than hotels. This makes the beaches generally less crowded than the big east coast cities like Ocean City and Myrtle Beach, and no ugly high rises block your views. It also gives the area a low-key, neighborhood feel, yet still has all the typical beach town activities – fishing, water sports, mini-golf, go-karts, and they have recently added a waterpark. There are also some interesting day trips like the Wright Brothers Memorial, Jockey’s Ridge sand dunes, Manteo aquarium, wild horse tours, and a good number of lighthouses. AND plenty of eclectic shopping and restaurants…although if you’re anything like us, once we are settled in at the beach house we don’t do a lot of site-seeing. We much prefer playing games late into the night, sleeping in, and lounging by the ocean during the day. When you stay beachfront, you don’t even have to pack a wagon full of supplies, since you can go to the bathroom or grab lunch in the house – right behind you! I’m telling you, it’s the only way to do the beach with little kids.

kids’ pirate cruise in Manteo
ice cream in Duck, NC
Aqua Restaurant and Spa in Duck, NC
This is about as crowded as it gets in Duck in early June 👍

So here’s the cool part. The tourist industry here really caters to bigger groups – a lot of the beach houses are huge, and can get very fancy. Theater rooms, private pools, arcades, gamerooms with bars, the works. If you can gather up some of your best friends and/or family, you can split the cost of the house and go live like rockstars for a week with the beach in your backyard! Bring the grandparents who will be thrilled to hang with the kids while you and your husband have a date night, or the aunts and uncles whose kids will be having such a good time with YOUR kids that there will be no complaints or temper tantrums – freeing you up to sit on the deck with a cosmo.

Shops along the sound in Duck
Date Night shopping in Duck
When you bring your friends, you get to do pedicures and brunch together!

You really can’t go wrong with any of the beach towns along the Outer Banks, but our favorite place to stay is Duck. It has a little more upscale, resort-like feel compared to the more kitschy-type towns as you go south. We have always used Twiddy to rent our houses, because well…they are the best. We have used them since I was a kid and never once had a problem with a house not being clean or ready. And on the rare occasion something needed repaired or serviced, they responded ridiculously fast. Here are a few of the houses we have stayed in over the years:

One year we ordered a few pots of steamed crabs for a seafood feast!

Remember how I said the OBX beaches are less crowded than the major coastal cities? At night, you can almost feel like it’s your own private beach. After kids finish hunting for the little crabs that emerge after dark, you can enjoy quiet beach strolls under countless stars, in a way you won’t find at big beach cities.

Kids love crab hunting at night

Some final tips if you are on a budget: prices are much higher during peak summer than May/early June and late August, and traffic is also much worse. We have gone the last week of May/first week of June for years, now that we have kids who are in school at the end of August – you might be surprised at how affordable it is then. Also, these beach houses have great kitchens, so you can make dinners easily without paying to eat out all week – and let’s face it, trying to clean up the kids after a day of sand and swimming to drag them to a restaurant where they will not sit still or finish their meals does not really add to the “vacation experience”. We always trade off dinner duty with our housemates so I can get away with only cooking dinner ONCE the whole week.

The Outer Banks will always be special to us. If you do it right, this is one of those trips that can be a true vacation, rather than an exhausting ordeal you need to recover from when you get home!